LAOS- Christians in southern Laos faced a grim New Year after seven believers including church leaders were detained by the Communist government’s security forces during violent church raids, reported Stefan J. Bos for (BosNewsLife).
Sirikoon Prasertsee, who leads the advocacy group Human Rights Watcher for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), said the detentions occurred late Saturday, December 29, when police stormed a Christmas church service in Nakanong Village located in the Phin District of Savannakhet Province.
He said three male church leaders, identified as Akeo, Kert, and Somwang, were first moved to the regional police headquarters. Police returned to the church and detained 4 more Christian men. “They were led away to the Phin district police headquarters,” Prasertsee said.
Shortly after BosNewsLife made the international community aware of their arrest, the seven were released.
Security forces also “demolished the stage, cut off the power line, destroyed the sound system, and seized 3 mobile phones,” according to HRWLRF, which represents Christians in the area.
Police are reportedly charging the Christians with the “illegal gathering for a Christmas church service without state permission.”
The HRWLRF said it had urged the Lao government to release immediately and unconditionally the seven Lao Christians and pay for the damages to the physical properties of the church. It was not immediately clear when and how the government would react to these demands.
However, the detentions are the latest in a series of incidents targeting Christians in Laos.
Activists and local Christians say the persecution is partly linked to concerns within the Communist party and movement Pathet Lao, which has ruled the Southeast Asian nation since 1975, ending a six-century-old monarchy and instituting a strict regime aligned with Vietnam.
Communists view the spread of Christianity as a threat to their power base and way of thinking, BosNewsLife established.
“The government has recently made efforts to increase the monitoring of illegal house churches with the help of registered churches, resulting in the arrest and detention of Christian believers,” said advocacy group Open Doors.
“Provincial and local authorities hinder Christian activity. They often cooperate with community leaders like Buddhist monks to put pressure on Christians, especially converts. Families of converts heavily contribute to this persecution within the home.”
Christians comprise less than two percent of the mainly Buddhist population of over 7 million people, according to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The detentions come despite reported Western-style reforms in other areas such as the limited return to private enterprise and the liberalization of foreign investment which began in 1988. Laos also became a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in 1997 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2013.
In a statement to BosNewsLife, the HRWLRF urged the Lao government to respect “the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009.”
Under these laws, the individual has the right to adopt a religion or belief of choice and the freedom to “manifest that religion or belief” publicly. ——
Christianity is considered a Western influence and especially dangerous by the Communist Party in Laos. Authorities heavily monitor all religious activities, including those of registered Christian churches, religious gatherings must be reported beforehand. House churches are forced to operate illegally, in secret.
Buddhist teachings are often considered part of Lao “cultural education,” and included in the curriculum at some schools. In one case, Christian students were required to attend a Buddhist temple ritual.
Converts to Christianity become outsiders within their Buddhist-animist communities, pressured by Buddhist monks, family members and local authorities to recant their new faith. Some believers are arrested and detained when caught engaging in illegal church activities, or when Bibles or other Christian literature are discovered. Others are threatened, fined or beaten in an attempt to make them renounce their faith.
- Pray that Christians would have wisdom in witnessing to their Buddhist neighbors and family members. Pray that their efforts would be well received.
- Pray that Christians in Laos would be able to freely access Bibles and register churches. Pray also that Christian children in Buddhist schools would not be discriminated against and receive low marks simply because of their faith.
- Laos is one of the five remaining Marxist-Leninist countries in the world, and as such, it is strictly opposed to any influence deemed foreign or Western. The Communist Party puts enormous pressure on the small Christian minority. Please pray for increased openness and acceptance towards Christianity.
(Morning Star News) – A pastor in northern Laos who disregarded officials’ orders to stop preaching Christ has been stabbed to death, sources said.
A prison official identified only as Wansai entered the home of pastor Singkeaw Wongkongpheng in Na-ang village, Chomphet District, Luang Prabang Province on the night of Sept. 8, relatives told advocacy group Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
While four other unidentified men who accompanied Wansai waited outside the pastor’s home, Wansai entered shortly after 10 p.m. and first grabbed Pastor Wongkongpheng’s wife. When the pastor came to help her, Wansai tried to take him away, according to HRWLRF.
“Witnesses said Pastor Singkeaw asked the attacker if he needed money,” the director of HRWLRF said. “Relatives of Pastor Singkeaw reported that Mr. Wansai responded saying he was with the secret police and that he came to take the life of Pastor Singkeaw and nothing else.”
The pastor called out for help, and Wansai stabbed him three times in the back, according to HRWLRF. Pastor Singkeaw’s son, identified only as Manh, arrived and chased Wansai as he fled, severely injuring the assailant, witnesses said.
As Wansai received treatment at a hospital, relatives of the slain pastor learned that Wansai is a Luang Prabang provincial police serving as a prison guard in Pha-Oh Prison.
The HRWLRF director (name withheld for security reasons) said area Christians believe the killing was the direct result of the pastor’s refusal to stop speaking of Christ.
“His strong stance on practicing his constitutionally guaranteed religious right in holding and spreading his Christian faith was believed to finally result in him meeting with his cruel death at the hands of those who opposed him,” said the director. “He left behind his wife and six children, four boys and two girls.”
Area Christians in Luang Prabang, a northern province bordering Vietnam, suspected the five men meant to abduct and kill the couple in the same way that a pastor and his wife in Luang Namtha Province were slain several years ago, he said; their bodies were never found.
Officials had ordered Pastor Singkeaw to stop spreading Christianity a few years ago. The history of orders for him to cease preaching Christ began in 2000, during a period of severe persecution of Christians in Luang Prabang Province from 1997 to 2002, the director said. Lao officials delivered orders that no Christians be allowed to spread the Christian faith in Chomphet District and many other districts in Luang Prabang Province.
“Pastor Singkeaw ignored the orders and continued spreading the Christian faith,” the director said. “Actually, the church that he had been pastoring up to his death was founded by him in 2000 during the great religious persecution.”
Pastor Singkeaw’s Na-ang Church in Na-ang village has 58 members, with some coming from Hueytat village in the same district.
A local Christian leader reported that Pastor Singkeaw was a law-abiding citizen who lived a simple life with very little material goods. He had no enemies, nor had he received death threats.
Christians in Laos are frequent targets of harassment by communist officials, Buddhist leaders or animist villagers. Buddhists make up more than 57 percent of the population of the Communist country, according to Operation World. About 35 percent of the population adheres to indigenous religions, and only 3.4 percent of the population is Christian.
“The HRWLRF is calling upon the Lao government to investigate into the death of Pastor Singkeaw and bring justice to his family and church as well as to hold the police officer and four other unidentified attackers responsible for their cruel and cold-blooded murder,” the director said.
The group is also urging the Lao government to respect religious freedom as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009. The covenant upholds the individual’s right to adopt a religion/belief of choice as well as the right to manifest that religion/belief in a corporate worship (Article 18).
“Any form of coercion impairing the freedom to have and manifest one’s religion/belief of choice is condemned in the covenant,” the director said.
‘Illegal Doctors’ Freed
In Savannakhet Province, a pastor and four other church leaders who were convicted in February of being “illegal doctors” because they prayed for a sick woman who later died have been freed pending outcome of their appeal.
The People’s Court of Savannakhet Province on Feb. 12 sentenced the five Christians to nine months in prison and a fine of 500,000 kips (US$62) each. In addition, the defendants are to jointly pay 20 million kips (US$2,448) in emotional damages and funeral costs to the family of the deceased, according to court records.
The woman who died, identified only as Chansee (also known as Chan), had been ill for two years with an unknown condition. Various kinds of healers and doctors in Saisomboon village, Atsaphangthong District, had treated her without success, area residents told a representative of HRWLRF.
Held in stocks after their arrest in June 2014, the Christians – female pastor Kaithong Khounphaisane and four leaders of other churches identified in court records as Phouphet, Muk, Hatsady and Thiang – were released in March and are awaiting the outcome of their appeal.
(Morning Star News) – Local officials in Laos arrested seven Christians for meeting for worship on Sunday (Sept. 28), according to a rights group.
The chief of Boukham village, in Atsaphangthong District, Savannakhet Province, along with village security officials and police arrested the Christians as they ate lunch after meeting for worship in the home of pastor Sompong Supatto, according to Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
The pastor was held in handcuffs and leg stocks at press time, an HRWLRF spokesman said.
The local officials had issued an order the previous Sunday (Sept. 21) that Christians in the village were no longer allowed to gather for worship, but he gave no reason for the order, said the spokesman, whose name is withheld for security reasons.
“The authorities just did not want Christians to assemble for worship,” he said.
All seven Christians were still in detention at the Boukham village government headquarters. Christians have been assembling for corporate worship in Boukham village for more than three years, and the chief’s order violates religious freedom as stipulated in the country’s constitution, he said.
Arrested along with the pastor were Christians identified only as Manivanh, 60; Chai, 56; Anna, 50; Chanthanarm, 18; Neal, 21; and Petsamone, 40.
“The HRWLRF urges the Lao government to respect the right of the Lao people to religious freedom and the accompanying rights as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009, upholding the individual’s right to adopt a religion/belief of choice as well as the right to manifest that religion/belief in a corporate worship (Article 18),” the representative said. “Any form of coercion impairing the freedom to have and manifest one’s religion/belief of choice is condemned in the Covenant.”
HRWLRF also urged the Lao government to punish the Boukham village chief and other village officials for illegally arresting the Christians.
Officials in the district have harassed other Christians. A pastor and four others were arrested in Saisomboon village on June 24, accused of murder after they prayed for a sick woman who later died.
The deceased, a mother of eight grown children in Savannakhet Province identified only by her surname of Chan, had been ill for two years with an unknown condition. Various kinds of healers and doctors in Saisomboon village had treated her without success, area residents told HRWLRF.
Chan came in April to a leader of the Saisomboon village church known only as Kaithong to be prayed for, and she became well for a short time, the HRWLRF representative said. Soon after, she became a Christian.
“Then, she suddenly passed away on June 21,” the representative told Morning Star News. “The police authorities charged Kaithong as well as the other four Christians/leaders who were present at the funeral of murder because she passed away.”
He added that authorities were searching for any excuse to try to stop the spread of Christianity and religious freedom in the area, where animist religious practices are prevalent. The population of Laos, a communist country, is 57 percent Buddhist and 34.7 percent “ethno-religionist,” various forms of animism, according to Operation World.
The Christian population of the country is estimated at 3.4 percent.
(Morning Star News) – Eager to stop the spread of Christianity, authorities in a village in Laos have charged a pastor and four church members with murder after they prayed for a sick woman who later died, area sources said.
The deceased, a mother of eight grown children in Savannakhet Province identified only by her surname of Chan, had been ill for two years jwith an unknown condition. Various kinds of healers and doctors in Saisomboon village, Atsaphangthong District, had treated her without success, area residents told a representative of Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
“Mrs. Chan came – in April – to Kaithong, the leader of the Saisomboon village church, to be prayed for, and she apparently became well for a short time,” the HRWLRF representative, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told Morning Star News. “She then embraced the Christian faith. Then, she suddenly passed away on June 21. The police authorities charged Kaithong as well as the other four Christians/leaders who were present at the funeral of murder because she passed away.”
Her eight sons and daughters, four of whom are married, also began to embrace Christianity, he said, and four other families in the village had already put their trust in Christ.
“I believe that authorities are trying to find every way they possibly can in order to stop the spread of Christian religious freedom in the area,” the HRWLRF representative said.
The pastor, a woman identified only as Kaithong, and the four others were arrested on Tuesday evening (June 24) and were being held in handcuffs with their feet in stocks, he said. Along with the pastor, four church members identified only as Puphet, Muk, Hasadee and Tiang were detained at Bouthong sub-district police station, directed by Atsaphangthong District police.
Initially they were arrested only over a burial dispute. On the day Chan died, her sons and daughters secured permission from the Saisomboon village chief to organize a Christian burial ceremony and to bury her on their own personal property, as Christians are denied burial rights in the Saisomboon village cemetery. When the time came to gather for mourning on Sunday evening (June 22), however, the village chief, along with the village’s Communist party secretary, reversed the decision.
The officials banned the mourning gathering as well as the burial ceremony unless her children signed an affidavit to recant their Christian faith; they refused and maintained their intention to carry out a Christian funeral.
On Sunday evening (June 22), Christians came from Donpalai, Huey and Bungthalay and other nearby villages to attend the mourning service, but authorities forbade it. The next day, the leader of Saisomboon village church, Kaithong, filed an appeal of the prohibition with the Atsaphangthong District chief. The Christians from nearby villages continued to provide support for Chan’s sons and daughters and to await the outcome of the appeal.
By Tuesday (June 24), the body of the deceased had begun to decompose. At around 2 p.m. that day, village police and military personnel went to the deceased person’s house, where a gathering was underway, and arrested Kaithong along with Puphet, leader of the Donpalai village church.
About 20 minutes later, authorities returned to the gathering and arrested Muk, leader of Huey village church, Hasadee, leader of Bungthalay village church in Palansai District, and Tiang.
A half later, the village chief led Buddhist monks and relatives of Chan into her house and conducted a Buddhist funeral ceremony, before taking her body to the village cemetery, the HRWLRF representative said. Christians at the gathering left Chan’s house, he said, and went home.
Buddhists make up more than 57 percent of the population of the Communist country, according toOperation World. About 35 percent of the population adheres to indigenous religions, and only 3.4 percent of the population is Christian.
The five accused Christians have been transferred to Atsaphangthong District’s prison.
The incident in Saisomboon village follows a May 20 declaration by the chief of Saisomboon village that three female students had forfeited their right to an education because they had become Christians. The girls, identified only as Nut, 14, and 15-year-olds Noi and Net, were told that they would not be permitted to take exams. Kaithong appealed that case with the Atsaphangthong District education chief, who was negotiating with the Liansai School director seeking permission for the three students to take their exams, according to HRWLRF.
HRWLRF urged the Lao government to respect religious freedom as guaranteed in the Lao constitution and the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), ratified by Laos in 2009, upholding the right to adopt a religion/belief of choice as well as the right to manifest that religion/belief in a corporate worship (Article 18). Any form of coercion impairing freedom to have and manifest one’s religion/belief of choice is condemned in the ICCPR, the HRWLRF representative said.
The rights organization also urged the Lao government “to punish the village Saisomboon village chief and other officials who acted illegally in obstructing the funeral service according to Mrs. Chan’s religious affiliation, and in arresting Kaithong, Puphet, Muk, Hasadee, and Tiang.”
HRWLRF demanded the immediate release of the incarcerated Christians.
NEW DELHI (Morning Star News) – More than two dozen Christian converts in a village in southern Laos could be expelled for their faith if government officials fail to keep local authorities from violating their constitutional rights, according to an advocacy group.
The Christians from eight families in Natahall village, in Savannakhet Province’s Phin District, were told to recant their faith three months ago, according to a representative with Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF).
“The threats are very real … Officials are still intending to carry out the threats. The deadline for expulsion has passed,” said the HRWLRF source, who requested anonymity. “Christian residents of Natahall village are fighting hard to keep their homes as well as their constitutionally guaranteed right to believe in the Christian faith.”
Religious affairs officials from Phin District are holding discussions with the Natahall village chief, identified only as Amka, leaders of the local chapter of the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party and district police. The threat of expulsion, however, has not been withdrawn, the source said.
Local officials on Dec. 2 sent an eviction order to five Christian families, according to HRWLRF. On Dec. 8, 2013, the village chief publicly declared that the Christian families who had converted to Christianity would be held responsible for any deaths villagers might suffer as a result of spirits angered by violation of traditional beliefs and customs. Animism and ancestor worship are prevalent across Laos.
The village chief offered to relocate the Christian families to another village in the same province. Not only did the Christians refuse to renounce their faith, but three more families in the village put their trust in Christ, the source said.
On March 11, the village chief and local police summoned the eight Christian families for a four-hour meeting and once again ordered them to abandon their faith.
“We fought to get rid of the Americans, and now you are bringing their religion into our homes,” an official told the Christians, according to the HRWLRF source.
Sections of the Hmong tribe in Laos and Vietnam, some of whom were Christians, sided with the United States in the fight against communism in Southeast Asia.
HRWLRF has urged the communist government of Laos to allow the Christian families to exercise their religious freedom as guaranteed in the country’s constitution.
Article 30 of the 1991 constitution recognizes religious freedom, saying, “Lao citizens have the right and freedom to believe or not to believe in religions.” To restrict religious freedom, however, the government often cites Article 9, which states, “All acts of creating division of religions and classes of people are prohibited.”
In 2004, then-U.S. President George W. Bush extended normal trade relations to Laos, overlooking calls from human rights groups for the continuation of the boycott of the communist regime.
The legislation Bush signed into law to normalize relations with Laos argued that “expanding bilateral trade relations that include a commercial agreement may promote further progress by the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on human rights, religious tolerance, democratic rule, and transparency, and assist that country in adopting regional and world trading rules and principles.”
Critics assert, however, that the U.S. decision has had not reduced persecution of Christians and other minorities, which involves expulsion from villages, forced relocation, pressure to recant faith, arrest, destruction of livestock and crops and closure of churches.
Laos has been a single-party state since the end of the Laotian civil war in 1975. The government also keeps the majority Buddhist population somewhat under its control. It severely restricts freedom of assembly and association as well, apparently out of fear that any unrestrained grouping in the country might one day become a threat to communist rule.
The HRWLRF notes that the U.N. International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Laos in 2009, upholds the right to adopt a religion/belief of choice as well as the right to manifest that religion/belief in a corporate worship (Article 18). Any form of coercion impairing the freedom to have and manifest one’s religion/belief of choice is condemned in the Covenant.